UEngage.ASEAN: You(th) Solution to Go Waste-Free

Alumni TIES
5 min readJul 14, 2023

by Bunthicha Larlarb

Chiang Mai is a large city in northern Thailand producing over 300 tons of garbage per day, which includes single-use plastic food containers that vendors hand to customers. Expected population growth coupled with inefficient waste management could create a perfect storm for serious health issues, such as outbreaks of disease and respiratory issues. To mitigate this, education is vital to reduce littering, create a better environment, and instill a zero-waste mindset in Chiang Mai citizens.

In response to the growing health effects of waste in Chiang Mai, our UEngage.ASEAN team organized an UEngage.ASEAN workshop for Chiang Mai University students. These students represent a large group that can potentially empower, educate, and collaborate with the highland communities in Chiang Mai. The workshop aimed to support and develop leadership skills and create opportunities for community engagement. As the name implies, UEngage.ASEAN, U comes from Youth and You while “Engage” represents youth engagement and community engagement!

First, our UEngage.ASEAN team turned plastic waste into developing the “Hugsa board game.” Environmental gamification can minimize littering issues and close the educational inequality gaps of Indigenous groups, such as the Hmong, in Chiang Mai. The board game is designed to educate Hmong children of the 3R concept — Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle — and to empower them to protect and care for their communities. We utilized this educational tool to invest in the human components of recycling and eradicating the inequality gap. We hope no child will be left behind while promoting better waste management. With plastic waste issues in mind, the Hugsa board games are made of recycled plastic which transforms bottle caps into hexagon components in the board game. Through the process, 6,885 bottle caps became 405 hexagons in the board game.

Our CMU participants taught Hmong children to play the Hugsa board game.

Second, we organized three days of UEngage.ASEAN workshops at Chiang Mai University (CMU) from January 6–8, 2023. The first day of the workshop provided 30 CMU participants the opportunity to learn about environmental damage arising from fast fashion, how to manage their own waste, and a hands-on interactive experience to turn waste into useful materials via a “Do-It-Yourself (DIY)” workshop. A “Train the Trainers” workshop took place on the second day and encouraged skill improvement from alumni of the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI) program sharing their experiences and guiding the students through Heart Advocacy, Design Thinking, Pitching Their Projects, and finally introducing them to our Hugsa board game.

The last day of the workshop centered on community outreach. The students traveled to Doi Pui, west of Chiang Mai, to meet the Hmong community. There, they led a discussion with 10 Hmong children tour guides who are the representatives of the Hmong community. The students, along with the 10 Hmong child representatives, then taught other Hmong children about waste segregation and the 3R concept through the board game.

Our UEngage.ASEAN workshop received an honor from Mr. Andrew Leahy, Public Diplomacy Officer at U.S. Consulate General Chiang Mai and Assistant Professor, Dr. Chainarong Luengvilai from Chiang Mai University gave the opening remarks at the workshop.

After the workshop, the CMU participants confirmed that they had a better understanding of waste management, the 3R concept, and how to recycle waste into precious products. Some students shared that they realized the value of plastic waste and were inspired to develop creative solutions. As part of the “Train the Trainers” session, participants worked together on a team to ideate and brainstorm local-based solutions. They presented their ideas to the Hmong children, teachers, and the school director. When surveyed, 86% of the participants said that they had the confidence to develop their local-based solution, 90% were confident in pitching their projects, and 86% were able to inspire and communicate with others about waste management. In addition, 96% of the participants agreed that the Hugsa board game was engaging and interesting.

A week after the UEngage.ASEAN workshop, the UEngage.ASEAN team organized the “UEngage.ASEAN Rising Star” workshop with the theme of developing a global perspective for environmental protection and the future of UEngage.ASEAN. The UEngage.ASEAN team selected 11 CMU applicants who had participated in the first workshop to join the following workshop. UEngage.ASEAN’s core team shared the different Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) perspectives in their own countries and created a mock ASEAN summit to make them understand the contexts in other ASEAN countries. On the last day, the participants culminated their learning experiences by pledging to support a future Uengage.ASEAN project.

Throughout the UEngage.ASEAN Rising Star workshop, the participants shared their opinions and reflections about the overall workshop. The students noted that the topics were simple and accessible to the audience, even though this workshop was organized in English and the topics were new to them. Additionally, this workshop pushed students to get out of their comfort zones, improve their public speaking skills, and work together as a team.

A participant from the CMU Ethnic student club- Napatsawan Manatsananwong, role-played as a Malaysian presenter and presented the country’s SDGs priorities and challenges.

Both workshops received positive feedback from the CMU students and stakeholders. In the future, our team will widen our audience to young teachers in rural areas who are cultivating learning and empowering rural children. We will train the teachers to be trainers and give them opportunities to educate their students to increase their sense of waste and environmental awareness. This is how we can continue and expand our UEngage.ASEAN to everyone in the region. Our team believes that “If You Engage, We Engage;” which is how we can sustain our world.

If you’d like to read more about our project, please visit the UEngage.ASEAN (facebook.com) | Facebook page.

Bunthicha Larlarb is an alumna of the 2020 Global Undergraduate Exchange Program (UGRAD) and the 2021 YSEALI Women’s Leadership Academy. She participated in the May 2022 Alumni TIES seminar on Public Health and Climate Crisis in the Indo-Pacific in Bangkok, Thailand.

Alumni TIES is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State with funding provided by the U.S. Government and supported in its implementation by World Learning, in partnership with the Office of Alumni Affairs of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA).

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Alumni TIES

Alumni Thematic International Exchange Seminars (Alumni TIES) are regionally focused seminars for alumni of U.S. government-sponsored exchange programs.